Chaplain's Column: Life on the Street

What matters on the street is survival. What matters on the street is know-how. What matters on the street is instinct. So what's the big hubbub about training?

It's a fair question. Generally, there are opposite ends of the spectrum--the person that trains like crazy and doesn't really do much of the actual hands-on work (more of a talker/thinker than a doer) to the individual that does just whatever it takes to meet in-service training requirements. Then there is everyone else in between.

In terms of our work or ministry, there are essentially three areas for balance: the training we attend; the training we present; and the work itself.

Does training work? No doubt. But we always need to keep a balance. Like many that realize the value of training, I have had people ask about whether training is getting in the way of doing what I am supposed to be doing. My essential approach is that when I am not doing pastoral/chaplaincy/crisis intervention ministry, I ought to care enough about doing it well that I ought to learn more: I want to be better. So the answer is that training is part of what we are supposed to be doing; training is inseparable from the task before us. "We respond the way we train." We need to make sure we are always training.

We need to train in two ways as mentioned above--for ourselves and others. First, we need to make sure we attend training sessions. This helps us not only to learn the basics (and sometimes it is great to be reminded about them), but to learn more about the ever-changing world in which we live. Another important reason is simply so we can communicate more effectively. Training and updating allows us to learn the new lingo, hear the new ideas, interact with new persons, and filter it all through our understanding of working in ministry together. I like to think of this as bringing the Incident Command System approach to everyday interaction--common language and models for working together more efficiently and utilizing resources more effectively. Of course, the networking that grows out of these opportunities is also invaluable if we are serious about our calling and work.

Secondly, we ought to be well-versed enough in a minimum of one area that we can teach others. There are certain areas where there are often gaps in agencies: making proper death notifications; why God allows so much crap to happen in the world; how to effectively deal with spouses and families; interpreting the changes in our personalities that have affected us since we started on the job; why I feel like I am "going crazy" sometimes--and the list goes on. Take the time to formalize these or many other ideas and propose an in-service. It doesn't have to be long or overly fancy--just something fact-based and practical. Making it stimulating doesn't hurt either. There is never a time when I attend training during which I learn nothing. If nothing else, I learn more about how I don't want to present training in the future because it was so bad. Seriously though, it's rarely a total waste of time.

Incidentally, it never hurts to have pre-incident "face time" with those whom we are in ministry. A wise man once told me that "glad-handing is most effectively done prior to the incident/situation/disaster." Well said and, for many of us, a time-tested truth. Continuing to build relationships and rapport is essential. By taking advantage of opportunities to pass along good information in the training venue within your agencies, we make that happen.

Most importantly, we need to be smoking what we're selling. If we teach and learn to make our ministry better, we ought to be working diligently in ministry. We ought to be available for ride-alongs. We need to respond if we are available to that scene or that hospital or that home even if it is 0200 and we're tired. My thought is that many of us are pretty good at making the response. But are we trying to learn more and become better as we learn? Are we as helpful as we can be when we arrive to provide assistance? I believe we can always learn more. There is always room for improvement.

Officers, chaplains, administrators ...let's be the best we can be. Let us train ...not just to learn, but to be better prepared as we serve, protect, and minister.

Thanks for your great work.